Quick, head over to KTM.com, and check out the “Travel” bikes. What have we got here? A few 890 models, a 690 Enduro R (really, that’s a travel bike?), a couple of 1290s, and the . . . 390 Adventure?
What? Is the 390 Adventure really travel-ready? I’ve just got back from a 5,000-kilometer trip around Newfoundland on a 2021 model, and, after that, I can tell you this: the 390 Adventure is more than able to handle hard miles.
The KTM 390 Adventure has enough power for touring
This was my biggest concern about the bike. Would the single-cylinder engine have enough jam? With liquid-cooling, a four-valve DOHC top end, and six-speed gearbox, I figured I’d probably be OK—and I was right.
The 390 Adventure makes about 43 horsepower at the crank, and 27 pound-feet of torque. That’s not much, but it’s enough to do the speed limit with a bit to spare, in most cases. If you’re on a standard North American highway, with top speed 65–70 mph (100–110 km/h), the 390 will do better than the limit, even on the uphills. Running around Newfoundland, the only time I ever felt I needed more torque was on really long uphill runs, especially if I was battling wind. Otherwise, I had no problem running with the other bikes on this trip (a Yamaha Tenere 700, a BMW R1100 GS, and a Suzuki V-Strom 1000). It’ll run at 130 km/h (81 mph) forever, and even faster on the flats. Just like a big old 650 thumper.
That’s with me (coming in at 220 lb/100 kilogram fighting weight), my riding gear, and my camping gear and clothes. Obviously, a lighter rider with less of a load would find it easier.
There’s some engine vibration, as you’d expect from a single, but nothing serious.
Although the 390 has noticeably less torque than the old DR/KLR/XR 650 singles, the optional quickshifter makes up for it. Clutchless upshifts/downshifts let you bang through the gears for quick acceleration on passes, or for backroad blitzing. It’s useful in town, too.
The KTM 390 Adventure has an advanced electronics package
I believe ABS and traction control are important on touring-oriented bikes. If you do long days in the saddle, sooner or later you’ll be riding tired, or in bad weather, or on sketchy road surfaces, or you’ll be confronted by a situation (crazy driver, suicidal deer) . . . or maybe even all of those scenarios at the same time. ABS and traction control just might save your butt when that happens.
Good news, then. The 390 has lean-sensitive ABS (Road and Offroad modes) and traction control (On or Off). It’s easy to switch between the electronic features, with an intuitive interface between the four-button array on the left handlebar and the TFT screen.
Thankfully, I didn’t need ABS on my trip, but it was reassuring to have it, riding through moose country. As for traction control, it was fairly unobtrusive on easy gravel roads, but kind of frustrating on slippery, steep hillclimbs. Good thing it’s easy to turn off, then!
The 390 comes with the capability to integrate KTM’s MY RIDE app. This gives you a GPS readout on the TFT screen, as well as control over your phone’s music playback. I did not use this function, as I didn’t need it (had a Garmin GPS along with me already, and directly connected my phone to my Cardo intercom). However, it’s there and would be quite useful for many riders.
As for other, more utilitarian zappy bits: The LED headlights look good, although I found them a tad wimpy after dark. There’s a 12V plug-in in the steering stem, good for powering your cellphone or even a heated vest.
The KTM 390 Adventure is a good compromise for realistic ADVers
Everyone says they want a big bike for highway miles, with good street handling, and they also want a bike that’s easy to ride offroad. The 390 Adventure is a decent compromise in that it gets the job done on the highway, and the WP Apex suspension and 19-17 wheelset are decent offroad, too. Not as hairy-chested as a longer-travel suspension with 21-18 wheels, but this isn’t that kind of bike.
The 390 Adventure is perfectly suited to the type of rider who is curious about the view from a pole-line road, or a possible campsite down an ATV trail, but isn’t looking to go mud-bogging or launching off jumps. Given the bike’s plastic skidplate and handguards, limited ground clearance and cast rims, I was perfectly happy to ride it at slow-to-moderate speeds. This machine does not encourage you to get in over your head, a thousand miles from home. Its low weight and low seat height are non-intimidating, and encourage you to get off the tarmac to explore—just don’t push your luck, kid.
I’m sure other, more adventurous souls will chime in now, with tales of how they’ve assaulted the tiniest goat trails of Copper Canyon with their 390 Adventure. You guys do you, I’m happy taking the bike along easy, unpaved routes at easy speeds.
The KTM 390 Adventure is easy to kit out
OK, there’s not as much stuff on the market for the 390 Adventure as there is for, say, a KLR. However, when I went to Newfoundland, Rocky Mountain ATV/MC sent me a Tusk tail rack ($139.88). I added Giant Loop’s Great Basin tailbag (68 -litre capacity, $499 US) and Fandango tankbag (8-litre capacity, $260). Giant Loop’s tailbags generally don’t need a rear rack, but it makes life easier, especially because I strapped my camp chair down to it.
I undid the windshield mount with an Allen key, and slid it to the “high” position (still too low, one of the few gripes I had about the bike). I mounted the Garmin to the handlebars, and ran the power wire through the bodywork. All in all, I was ready to tour in not much more than an hour.
Obviously, adding a proper aluminum skidplate and handguards would have taken longer, same as adding hard side pannier racks. However, I didn’t need them on this trip; if I did need them, KTM’s Powerparts catalog has a selection, and companies like Rocky Mountain, SW-Motech, and others are quickly beefing up the aftermarket selection.
The KTM 390 Adventure is very affordable
Right now, the 390 Adventure MSRP is $6,699 USD, $7,399 CAD. The quickshifter is an optional extra. As far as I’m concerned, this is a bargain. It’s well in the range of Japanese 650 thumpers, but comes with crash bars (at least in Canada) and a full electronics package.
It’s also a cheap bike to run. For fuel consumption, I managed 4.2 litres/100 kilometers during my time on the 390 Adventure, which works out to 56 US mpg. I returned the bike with 6,000 meters on the clock, and the Continental TK70 tires had plenty of life left, more than could be said for the other, bigger bikes on my trip.
Honestly, I’d buy this bike, if I was on the market for a new travel machine. I seriously considered buying the test unit. It’s ideal for someone starting out in the world of ADV, someone who wants a manageable machine to start on. It’s also ideal for an experienced hand who wants a sharp-handling, quick-accelerating backroad bike, with enough power to drone out long highway miles.
The only question I’d have is, how long will the engine last? I banged out 6,000 kilometers (3700 miles) with no issues at all. They race these engines in MotoAmerica, so they must be able to handle a thrashing. If the motor and chassis hold up, this bike could be one of the best deals you’ll ever see on a brand-new, travel-capable machine.